Thursday, May 31, 2018

In Memory of Akasha: 2002-2018

On Tuesday, May 29, 2018, we said goodbye to Akasha — the greatest cat who ever catted.

Akasha came into my life as a tiny kitten with giant ears and giant eyes. Just look at this little baby! He never quite grew into those ears and eyes, but he turned out to be a very handsome little man.

My ex and I adopted Akasha from a friend who'd gotten a kitten for her kid (but she didn't anticipate how much work went into caring for a kitten). We already had an amazing puppy — Datsun — so we figured we could handle a cat too. We brought Akasha home in September 2002, the night before I was scheduled to walk in the Memphis Peace Walk with Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I'll never forget waking up super early on a Saturday morning for the walk, which I was covering for The Memphis Flyer, and coming home afterward, all zenned out, to my brand-new kitten.

Akasha and Datsun, who was only a couple months old at the time, got along great! They play -fought ALL THE TIME.

And they drank after each other. Y'all, this is probably dairy milk cause I was just vegetarian back in 2002-2003, not vegan. Look at Datsun waiting patiently in line.

Eventually, we took in more cats. But Akasha was always number-one in my heart. Although I grew up with many, many cats over the years, he was the first cat that I was responsible for raising without the help of my parents (although they made great grandparents and helped greatly with cat-sitting over the years!). 

We were convinced Akasha had a sixth sense. His eyes were always HUGE and staring off into space. He'd stare at a wall for long periods of time, and were certain he was seeing ghosts.

He loved hugs and being carried around like a baby. Nothing made him happier than dry food and head skritches. When you stopped petting him, he'd head butt you until you started back. When he was freaked out, he'd burrow under bed covers. He'd get under layers and layers of blankets, and you'd wonder if he could even breathe under there.

At some point a few years ago, Akasha was diagnosed with mega-colon, a condition that made it hard for him to poop. He was prescribed two medicines twice a day, plus Miralax on his special food. Every six months or so, he had to make a special trip to the vet for enemas. But despite his condition, he survived with mega-colon for 5-6 years after diagnosis. Sadly, his condition meant he could no longer eat dry food (his fave). But that didn't stop him from trying to steal any leftover dry stuff from the other cats' bowls or the dogs' bowls. He could still have dry treats sometimes, and he would devour them like he'd been starving for days. He was also a tomato thief, and if you left one sitting on the counter after slicing, he would sneak off with it.

Anyway, he was the best. I had six cats, and I'm not gonna lie — Akasha was the favorite, hands down. His older brother Datsun passed away two years ago on June 2. Akasha left this world on May 29. It's crazy how close together their death dates are. 

I came home from work one day in March and noticed that Akasha wasn't running to his food bowl at dinner time like he usually did. I picked him up to take him to his bowl, since his special diet required him to eat in a separate room from the other cats. But he cried when I lifted him, and when I sat him down, he started limping and favoring his right hind leg. And then he refused to eat. I rushed him to the vet, and they did X-Rays. Turns out he'd lost all bone mass in his right leg, which the vet told me was most likely a rare bone cancer. We didn't do a biopsy because it would have required putting him under anesthesia, and he was 16. The vet prescribed some steroids, and after a few days, he perked back up!

But I knew the steroids were just a band-aid and that his days were numbered. After a couple months of doing well (and even walking on his back leg!), this past weekend, Akasha stopped eating again. His back leg got super swollen. He couldn't walk without a really bad limp, and he seemed to be in a lot of pain. On Tuesday, I called the vet, and he came over for a house call to take Akasha to the Rainbow Bridge. It was the saddest thing, but we got to spend most of the day together Tuesday, watching Netflix on the couch. Sadly, Paul was working in Nashville and couldn't make it home in time. He's known Akasha since he was two years old, and it was hard for him too. We cried a lot on the phone together that night.

Akasha, you've left a massive hole in our hearts that can never be filled. But I'm so grateful for the years you gave us. Thanks for all the head butts and cuddles. We'll miss you, buddy. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

New at Farm Burger: The Impossible Burger!!

Quick post tonight! And sorry for the long absence. I had a very bad day yesterday, but I'm not ready to talk about it just yet, so I'll catch y'all up on that later.

Until then, I have some most excellent news to share with Memphis vegans and anyone planning a trip to Memphis. Farm Burger in Crosstown Concourse now carries the Impossible Burger!

That makes three Memphis restaurants that I know of that carry the Impossible. The Liquor Store on Broad and Hopdoddy in Overton Square also sell the patty, and each place serves them in their own unique way. I do believe the Farm Burger version is my fave though! They coat the patty with a seasoned salt blend with big chunks of black pepper, and then it's fried and served with toppings of your choice on a sesame seed bun. I'm so lucky to work literally right upstairs from this place!!

I opted for pickles, red onion, tomato, lettuce, and grainy mustard. Perfect! I love their thinly sliced onions and pickles. Plus, the burger comes with Farm Burger's natural cut fries, which I've long been a fan of. They don't serve vegan cheese, sadly. But the burger is so good that it doesn't really need it.

Here's an inside shot taken by my vegan coworker Gonzo. As you can see, they cook the patties until they're well-done. Impossible patties are red and actually bleed when prepared rare, but all of the Memphis restaurants serve them done to well-done. For a more rare (but still pretty done) version, try Hopdoddy. I'm a fan of this cooked-through version though!

The Impossible burger at Farm Burger is big news since, previously, the Memphis Farm Burger didn't have a vegan burger option. They also serve a quinoa veggie patty, but it is not vegan. Their Superfood Salad (a kale salad with nooch and tahini) is vegan, and it's great. But sometimes, you want a meaty veggie burger, right?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Engine 2 Food Journal: The End!

I've completed my 3-week Engine 2 meal plan! I started with the Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet a few weeks back, and then I moved into the regular Engine 2 plan. Both are oil-free, low-sugar, and low-salt, but the 7-Day Rescue is a little stricter on the healthy fats, like avocados and nuts. I wanted a healthy meal challenge to reboot my eating after a few weeks of not running (due to injury) led to me filling that running void with junk food.

After three weeks of eating this way, I feel really great. I didn't miss oil much at all, and I've learned to enjoy foods with less sugar and salt. But I am glad to be back to not following a plan. Reboots are such fun, but by the end, I'm always ready for more freedom. That said, I do plan to eat healthier meals at home going forward. I'm hoping I can save the processed plant meats, desserts, and salty, greasy foods for treats rather than everyday eats.

Here's a recap of my last couple days on the plan and my first day off the plan. Wednesday started out with one last bowl of Rip's Big Bowl Triple Berry Walnut Cereal with oat milk, bananas, and berries. This cereal with shredded wheat, oats, and grape nuts is so good, and I'll definitely be buying more soon.

My lunch that day was leftover Chick & Salad (chickpea salad with oil-free hummus instead of mayo, plus cabbage, carrots, onion, and celery) from The Engine 2 Cookbook on sprouted grain toast and steamed kale.

On Wednesday night, we had our monthly Crosstown Running Crew group run, and I managed to walk-run a couple miles! Afterward we met up for beers (I had two) at Next Door in Crosstown Concourse. They hooked us up with free kale chips and hummus, so I had some of both. The kale chips there are super oily and delicious, and I indulged and didn't stress it at all. Dinner that night was leftover Whole Wheat Beer Biscuits and True Grit Gravy and steamed asparagus. I didn't take a picture, but there's another later in this post!

Thursday morning started with Savory Oats with steel cut oats, spinach, mushrooms, nooch, and sriracha. No salt needed! This oat combo is my new fave, and I'll be eating this often.

Lunch on Thursday was more beer biscuits and gravy, and then I had an apple with some walnut butter before post-work outdoor yoga on the Crosstown Concourse plaza. I didn't have time to go home and eat dinner after yoga because I had to be at a friend's house for our bi-weekly girl's night. So I brought my dinner over there! The night before I'd packed a salad in a jar with leftover Chick & Salad, veggies, nuts and seeds, and Rip's Favorite Ranch from The Engine 2 Cookbook. Shara's dog Fran really wanted me to share.

On Friday morning, I had the last of my Beer Biscuits and Gravy, plus some Steamed Kale. Biscuits and gravy for breakfast on a work day is a real treat!

Lunch was leftover Snappy Black Bean Soup from The Engine 2 Cookbook. I didn't take a pic, but it's a super-tasty soup made with black beans and lentils. 

For dinner, I whipped up a random Mexican Burger Bowl using an Engine 2 Pinto Habanero patty, steamed kale, chopped potatoes, sauteed peppers and onions, nooch sauce, and salsa. You can never go wrong with a bowl!

On Saturday morning, I had my first race since I sustained a stress fracture back in early April. I'd signed up for the Great American River Run Half-Marathon months before, but after my injury, I emailed the race organizers to ask if they could switch me to a 5K. I didn't know if I'd be healed by then, but I figured there was a chance. And since my foot hasn't been hurting for a couple weeks, I decided to give it a go!

I woke up at 5 am on Saturday and made a bowl of Oatmeal with Banana, Blueberries, and Cashew Butter. Plus, coffee with oat milk.

Then I headed downtown for the race. I'd planned to walk-run the whole thing because I was still worried about my foot, even though I haven't had pain in awhile. But once I got going, I just couldn't stop. It felt so good to be running again! In a race! I ran the whole 3.1 miles with zero foot pain. And I got a snazzy medal. I've run the half in this race for the past two years, and while I was sad that I couldn't do that this year, I was still stoked to be running at all.

At the post-race party, I ran into my buddy Megan, who also ran the 5K. Neither of us knew the other had signed up, and we'd both run alone, so it was great having a friend to drink free beer with afterward. I had two beers before 10 am on Saturday! Ha!

After the party, I went home and showered. And by then, I was famished. I still technically had one day on Engine 2 left. But I figured I should celebrate by ending a little early! So I walked to Midtown Crossing Grill, my neighborhood pizza joint, and ordered a Vegan Pizza with potatoes, black olives, mushrooms, and caramelized onion. I got it to go, and I was planning to enjoy it over Netflix. But as soon as I got home, Midtown Crossing called me and told me they accidentally put butter on the crust and that I should bring it back so they could fix it. Isn't that some amazing customer service? I love them!

I walked back over with my non-vegan pizza, and owner Octavia hooked me up with a free beer while I waited on a new pie. Saturday was panning out to be a very good day! After the pie was ready, I walked back home and posed for a few pics with my new Into Fitness: Fitness Entire Pizza Into My Mouth shirt. 

And I did! I did fit that entire pizza into my mouth. I ate a few slices and waited to see if I felt full, but I was still hungry so I polished it off. 

After lunch, my friend Pam came over and we walked over to Crosstown Brewing Co. for beers and surf rock by The Turnstyles with some friends.

Then we headed to an art opening at Crosstown Arts (where I work). I snacked on some veggie sushi, sesame sticks, and wasabi peas there. Our friend Andy met us at the opening, and then I joined him to head downtown to 901 Fest, a music festival on the river featuring local acts. Memphis rappers 8Ball & MJG were the headliners, and I love them! After the bands finish, they have fireworks over the river. Here's me and Andy waiting for the firework show.

What a great day! After all that fun, I still managed to get to bed fairly early, and I slept in this morning until 8 am. Then I had my very favorite weekend breakfast of Rice Noodle Ramen with Tofu and Veggies while watching Netflix. 

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, and my meals weren't much to look at. Just a Boca chicken patty and some Annie Chun's Japanese yakisoba noodles. I spent the day cleaning and packing for Bonnaroo, so I just ate quick, easy meals between tasks.

I probably won't blog tomorrow night since I'll be grilling out with some friends for Memorial Day, but I'll catch back up on Tuesday! Have a great holiday!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Mushroom, & Black Bean Tacos

I few weeks ago, I came home from work to find a mysterious box on my front porch. I often receive vegan treats in the mail, but they're usually in small packages. This one was large enough to hold a small dog. I ripped it open to find this!

A box of Vidalia onions! Of course I knew they were coming. A rep from a Vidalia onion supplier had emailed me asking if I wanted some for recipe development. But I'd forgotten, so this was a fun surprise!

Vidalia onions are in season now, and they're only around for spring and summer. Did you know they can only be grown in 20 South Georgia counties and only hand planted/harvested? Fun facts!

I've used these sweet onions in a number of recipes throughout my Engine 2 oil-free challenge, but I wanted to share with you one special recipe that I'm particularly proud of. I made these Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Mushroom, & Black Bean Tacos without any oil! And they taste as decadent as something you'd eat in a restaurant.

You see, you don't need oil to caramelize onions. You can do it with water and non-stick skillet. The key is starting with a water saute until that water is absorbed, and then you continue to cook and stir the onions as they brown in the dry skillet. Once you add the chopped mushrooms, they'll rehydrate the skillet with their natural juices as they cook.

This recipe is also low-sodium, but you can add salt (or buy beans with added salt) if that's not your thing.

Here's the recipe!

Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Mushroom, & Black Bean Tacos
Yields 8 tacos

1 Vidalia onion, cut into thin half-moon slices
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 14-oz. can no salt added black beans
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
8 corn tortillas, warmed until pliable
8 Tbsp. salsa
1 avocado, sliced
Lettuce, shredded
Tomato, diced
Hot sauce, to taste

Put the onion slices and a couple tablespoons of water in a non-stick skillet, and turn the heat to medium-high. Saute until water absorbs and then continue to saute in a dry skillet for about 8-10 minutes or until onions brown and caramelize.

Add the mushrooms and saute another 5-7 minutes. The mushrooms will brown in the dry skillet at first, but they'll eventually make their own liquid. If you find the mixture to be too dry though, add a tablespoon or two of water.

Add the black beans, nooch, and spices, and cook until beans are heated through.

Spoon onto tortillas and top with avocado, salsa, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Engine 2 Food Journal, Day 10

I'm almost done with my 2 weeks on Engine 2! I've been following this oil-free, low-salt, low-sugar plan pretty well, but I've made plenty of room for treats and dining out. And that's because, going forward, I'd like to make most of my home meals as Engine 2-friendly as possible because I definitely feel best when I'm eating less oil. But I also don't want to deny myself sweets and plant meats and vegan cheeses when I want them.

Yesterday started off with another neighborhood walk/run (yay! my foot feels great right now!) followed by a healthy breakfast of Oats with Fruit, Flax Seed, and Almond Butter. Ahhhh, almond butter. So glad this stuff is so good for me!

Morning snack was more Texas Armadillo Tater Tots (aka baked red potatoes in hummus) from The Engine 2 Cookbook. And then lunch was leftover Black Bean Soup as seen in yesterday's post.

But then came afternoon snack time, and well, I wanted ice cream. So I had some! I work upstairs from Area 51 Ice Cream in Crosstown Concourse. They always have a vegan sorbet on the menu, and this week's offering was Sweet Tea Sorbet. I'd walked past the ice cream counter so many times and couldn't stop thinking about that sorbet. So I got some!

This was REALLY sweet, just like my mama's homemade sweet tea. I'm not used to so much sugar, so I definitely felt it. But it was worth it.

Dinner was my favorite Engine 2 meal so far! I made the Beer Biscuits and True Grit Gravy, both from The Engine 2 Cookbook. I mean, beer biscuits y'all!

These are whole wheat drop biscuits with a little beer for flavor, and they're topped with an oil-free gravy made with mushrooms and sweet onions. So very, very good. God, I love biscuits and gravy. On the side, I steamed some asparagus and only lighted salted it. Yummy!

By the way, I had half a beer can left after making the biscuits, so I had to drink it! Love this Crosstown Brewing Co. Traffic IPA. Locally brewed in the neighborhood where I live and work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Engine 2 Food Journal, Days 8-9

Catching up on what I ate Sunday and Monday on Engine 2! My Sunday morning started with a Folded Chickpea Omelet from The Engine 2 Cookbook. This is essentially pudla — chickpea flour pancake — stuffed with oil-free, sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and onions and topped with tomato, salsa, and avocado. So good! I'd eat this again and again.

My friend Andy asked me to help him cook for his church on Sunday. Not my thing, but I owe him for all the pet-sitting he does for me. I made vegan pigs in blankets and some of my vegan pimiento cheese (from Cookin' Crunk). Neither would be Engine 2-approved, but I snacked on those things anyway as we prepped the food.

Then my parents came over Sunday afternoon for a late Mother's Day dinner since they were out of town on actual Mother's Day. My dad brought some Seva Foods Space Ice Kream that he ordered me. It's cashew and coconut milk-based vegan freeze-dried ice cream! Fun! I tried this, which I would think is pretty healthy since it's just made with coconut milk, vanilla, and cashews.

Then we went to Genghis Grill for dinner. My parents love this build-your-own stir-fry chain! I tried to assemble the healthiest thing I could. I ordered a small bowl since that's plenty for a serving. I added tofu and every vegetable I could fit in, and for my grain, I picked brown rice. I chose the Sweet & Sour Sauce because it's one of only a couple sauces there made without HFCS. Still has a lot of sugar and sodium though! 

After my parents left, Paul and I went to our friend David's house and had a few beers (Memphis Made Fireside) on his back porch. So other than breakfast, I didn't follow Engine 2 that closely on Sunday.

But I made up for it on Monday! The day started with Savory Oats from The Engine 2 Cookbook — oats with nooch, mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, and turmeric. Mmmmmm.

Morning snack was Roasted Cashews. I had a meeting that ran very long, so I snacked on these until I could get to some real lunch. 

I'd intended to go home to eat lunch, but since my meeting ran long, I didn't have time. Luckily, I work in a building filled with vegan food options. I chose the healthiest meal I could find — Superfood Salad from Farm Burger. This has kale, dried cranberries, pecans, beets, nooch, and tahini dressing. The salad is only lightly dressed though and doesn't seem oily at all. By the way, Farm Burger now carries the Impossible Burger! So I'll be back for that VERY soon. It was a little hard to order a kale salad when the Impossible was an option.

Afternoon snack was Bell Pepper Slices with Oil-Free Hummus.

And finally dinner! Dinner was so amazing. I made the Snappy Black Bean Soup from The Engine 2 Cookbook. This soup has a base of pureed black beans and lentils, and it's just fantastic. There's a whole cup of salsa in the recipe, which adds awesome flavor with no need for added salt. It has also has fresh-squeezed OJ for a touch of citrus. I made some oil-free tortilla chips to crumble on top using corn tortillas cooked in the air fryer. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Green Goddess Popcorn & Tea Lounge

Memphis is home to a new all-vegan business! Green Goddess Popcorn & Tea Lounge at 3078 Summer Avenue opened for business this past weekend. This awesome little shop is exactly what it sounds like. You hang out, eat popcorn, and drink tea. Plus, they also sell fresh-based vegan pastries!

Green Goddess has been around as a popcorn company for quite some time. For the past 10 years, Owner Omi Ogunwale El has run Green Goddess Gourmet Vegan Foods — makers of the most amazing vegan flavored popcorns, which are sold at Memphis Whole Foods, Cash Saver, and Super Lo stores, plus Whole Foods in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Atlanta. But now Green Goddess has their own brick-and-mortar, and they've vastly expanded their popcorn flavor options.

I took a little break from my Engine 2 meal plan on Saturday to enjoy some treats at the grand opening. Susan and I split a bowl of the Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn (vegan parm of course!).

You can order a small, medium, or large bowl to enjoy at the lounge. Or you can get a one-pound bag of any flavor to go. They've added a bunch of new flavors, like vegan ranch and vegan butter. You can also buy the sealed bags of the same popcorn they sell in other stores. I got a bag of Garlic & Herb for my friend Mike, and since it was grand opening day, they handed out some free bags of Cinnamon Twist (it has dark chocolate and dried apples mixed in!).

We got to try several flavors of popcorn and teas since they were handing out free samples! The teas can be ordered by the cup or by the pot.

In addition to popcorn and tea, they also have VEGAN PASTRIES, y'all!!! In this case, there were cinnamon rolls, brownies, and little mini banana bread loaves.

I got a Cinnamon Roll because go big or go home, am I right? This was soft and buttery, but it didn't taste overly sweet, which was nice since I've adjusted to less sugar over the past few weeks of eating Engine 2 meals.

Here are some more interior shots.

Super excited about this concept, and I can't wait to become a regular. Popcorn is seriously in my top five favorite foods, and no one does popcorn like Green Goddess. It's so flavorful! 

Green Goddess Popcorn & Tea Lounge is located at 3078 Summer in Memphis, Tennessee.